Stop Trying So Hard!

St. Francis de Sales, the gentleman saint and ...
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Don’t lose any opportunity, however small, of being gentle toward everyone. Don’t rely on your own efforts to succeed in your various undertakings, but only on God’s help. Then rest in his care of you, confident that he will do what is best for you, provided that you will, for your part, work diligently but gently. I say “gently” because a tense diligence is harmful both to our heart and to our task and is not really diligence, but rather over eagerness and anxiety…I recommend you to God’s mercy. I beg him, through that same mercy, to fill you with his love.

Francis de Sales

I am not a gentle person. I am warm and generally kind.  I am open to others, making an effort to set them at ease.  My introversion and social anxiety make it so that this is hard work for me, but I do it out of principle.  And hardheadedness.  I want to know people, so I am damn sure I’m not going to let my flat-sides get in the way.

But my gut response to the world is usually to critique it.  It is all too easy and habitual to jump to conclusions and prejudge.  I am the opposite of temperate.  And I often become grouchy and grumbling about whatever displeases me —  from the coffee in a restaurant, to a reporter’s poor grammar, to the design on a book cover or the style in which a book is written.  Whether lyrics are theological or food is spiced correctly or a shop is ambient, you name it, I’ve got an opinion.  [Unless I don’t care and then I’ve got nothing.  Can’t be bothered… but digress.]

I would like to nurture gentleness in myself, however that is done. Even with my children, whom I absolutely adore, I know I can come across harshly.  That is why I love more-than-anything-in-the-world just to hold them.  To settle into a deep, long snuggle because  no words are necessary then.  And I fear that with my words, too quickly, I become evaluative and, oh dear, too soon, my love must feel conditional to them.

I am very diligent. I pride myself in being a hard worker which I learned from my father.  He taught me that a person never sits idle while being paid to work.  He caught me reading a book, as a teen, while I was working in his office.  I had run out of things to do. That was the day that my work ethic started, after a long talk from him.  Ask for more, I learned that day.  Idleness in a job, well that’s plain wrong.  And one must always carry out the tasks at hand.  I have learned that I love to work hard and if it makes me sweat all the better!  I am grateful to have that work ethic from him.

And yet, when it comes to being diligent, I am tense in my diligence, which de Sales claims is “over eagerness and anxiety.”  Um, yep.  That is so me — mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, wow do I need God’s mercy and to loose my hands on the vice grip that I hold on my life.  It isn’t pleasant or the kind of diligence required of us.

“I recommend to you God’s mercy.

I beg him, through that same mercy,

to fill you with his love.”

I am just thinking and going nowhere with these thoughts.  Except I that perhaps they were worth writing down.

Once our eyes are open, we can’t pretend we don’t know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows that we know, and holds us responsible to act. –Proverbs 24:12

Be well, friends.


Francis de Sales lived August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622.  He was Bishop of Geneva and is a Roman Catholic saint. He worked to convert Protestants back to Catholicism, and was an accomplished preacher. He is known also for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly Introduction to the Devout Life.

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